6 Players to Watch on Day 9 of the 2014 World Cup

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentJune 20, 2014

6 Players to Watch on Day 9 of the 2014 World Cup

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    Italy and France are the big draws on Day 9 of the World Cup.

    Italy have the chance to build on their win over England when they play Costa Rica, who surprised Uruguay, in Recife in the day's early game.

    In Group E, Switzerland and France, who both won their opening games, meet in Salvador.

    Then Ecuador and Honduras will go in search of their first points of the tournament when they line up in Curitiba for the late game.

    Here's a list of five players—and one coach—who will hope to play a key role on the ninth day of the World Cup. Feel free to use the comments section to agree, disagree and add your own.

Antonio Valencia, Ecuador

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    Antonio Valencia is still waiting to rediscover the form that won him Manchester United's Player of the Year award two seasons ago. At his best he's quick, direct and dangerous, but when he struggles he looks one-dimensional and out of his depth.

    With 72 caps, Valencia is one of Ecuador's senior players. He's capable of hurting a team with the limitations of Honduras. 

    And there's no better stage to rediscover his best form.

    Speaking on the upcoming contest, Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda discussed, per Reuters (h/t The Guardian), the present urgency for both teams, while also acknowledging his familiarity as the former manager for Honduras.

    "I had great times in Honduras, but now I’m here and as always I must go for the win," Rueda said. "Honduras are a great team, we all know their ability. They didn’t start well but they want and they need to win as much as we do."

    After losing to a late Switzerland winner in their first game, Ecuador need to beat Honduras in Curitiba on Friday, especially with France to play in their final group game. A player with Valencia's ability should be able to make a significant impact.

Luis Fernando Suarez, Honduras

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    He won't be on the field when Honduras take on Ecuador in Curitiba on Friday, but Luis Fernando Suarez still has a big role to play.

    The Honduras coach knows more than most when it comes to stopping Ecuador. Like the aforementioned Rueda, the 54-year-old once managed his upcoming opponent—at the World Cup in 2006.

    And he said it does help to know your opponents well.

    "I must have had about four or five of their current squad when I was there, so I do know something about them," Suarez said, via Reuters (h/t The Guardian). "But there is no real advantage in playing against another Latin American team."

    It will be Suarez's job to set up his Honduras team to frustrate Ecuador and do some damage at the other end.

Paul Pogba, France

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    There is no doubting Paul Pogba's quality. At just 21 years old, he's become a central part of France's midfield.

    Champions League football with Juventus has prepared the former Manchester United midfielder for the pressures of a World Cup. However, he still showed a flash of immaturity against Honduras when he appeared to kick out at Wilson Palacios.

    It's something manager Didier Deschamps said Pogba's team-mates have warned him about ahead of France's game with Switzerland in Salvador on Friday.

    "I did not warn him but Yohan Cabaye and Patrice Evra did, to tell him it was forbidden for us to finish with 10 men," Deschamps said, per the BBC. "We must have control, and that is not just relevant to Paul."

    If France are going to go far in Brazil, they will need to keep Pogba on the field.

Johan Djourou, Switerland

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    Switzerland started the World Cup ranked by FIFA as the world's sixth-best team.

    To put that into prospective, it's nine places ahead of the Netherlands. And 11 ahead of France, their opponents in Salvador on Friday.

    Switzerland have an experienced manager in Ottmar Hitzfeld and some very good players like Stephan Lichtsteiner, Gokhan Inler and Xherdan Shaqiri. But there are still question marks over Johan Djourou at centre-half. They are the same doubts that led Arsene Wenger to sanction his sale to Hamburg.

    After beating Ecuador, Switzerland will expect to qualify from Group E. But they'll have to get something from their game with France if they hope to finish top.

    And assistant coach Michel Pont told AFP, per FIFA.com, Switzerland won't turn up just to defend in numbers.

    It is extremely difficult to find weaknesses in the France team, it's the first time in 13 years that I've struggled to find them. It is very well organised, compact defence, who make individual sacrifices which is down to the will of the players. We have to find weaknesses by jumping on every opportunity.

    If we try and pack all 10 players behind the ball, it won't work, we have to challenge them.

    If Switzerland don't plan on heavy defending, their success will depend, in part, on Djourou's ability to stop France's Karim Benzema.

Joel Campbell, Costa Rica

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    Group D was meant to be a shootout between Italy, England and Uruguay.

    But that was before Costa Rica surprised everyone and beat Uruguay in their first game. It wasn't a smash-and-grab either; Costa Rica were worthy 3-1 winners.

    The result was achieved, in part, thanks to Joel Campbell. He gave notice of his ability during Olympiacos' 2-0 win over Manchester United in the Champions League last 16 first leg last season.

    The 21-year-old is expected to report back to Arsenal after the World Cup following a series of loan spells. According to his father Humberto, per Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail, it means there's even more on the line for him in Brazil.

    If they bring him back home to Arsenal I will be very happy.

    If they don’t then wherever they send him he just has to go and keep his feet on the ground. 

    He has always been good enough. He just needs them to give him the chance. I always had it in mind that Arsene knows what is best for young ones. He always makes good players.

    Unfortunately he didn’t want to play Joel when he was 18 but maybe he will when he is 21.

    England's pace and movement worried Italy's defence in the first game. And Campbell will fancy his chances of doing something similar. 

Andrea Pirlo, Italy

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    Andrea Pirlo passed England to death when Italy met them at Euro 2012. He put in a similarly imperious performance in Manaus on Saturday as Italy got their World Cup campaign off to a perfect start. 

    At 35 years old, Pirlo hasn't got the legs to contribute much defensively any more. But he's still in the Italian team because his passing ability and ball retention is such a dangerous weapon.

    The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson says England paid a price for giving Pirlo too much time on the ball in the first game.

    Pirlo famously out-passed the entire England squad during their Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy and, although it was marginally more competitive on Saturday, the statistics were again emphatic.

    Since records began in 1966, no team has completed a World Cup match with a superior passing accuracy than the 93.19 per cent that Italy achieved on Saturday.

    Pirlo made 108 passes, more than one a minute, and was successful with 103 of those.

    England chose not to make any special plans for Pirlo. But Costa Rica will feel if they can hassle and harry him a little more, then they have a chance of disrupting Italy's rhythm.